Things We Are Not Taller Than: Athens, Greece

This post is part of a series. You can read about the origins of our travel tradition here.

“We approached Athens from the north in early twilight, climbing a hill. When we reached its peak, we were dazzled to look down and see the Acropolis struck by one beam of the setting sun, as it posing for a picture.”
Donald Hall, poet

Though Tim and I approached Athens from the west in early twilight, and the hill we climbed was the slope to the Acropolis itself, we had the same reaction as Donald Hall did when he wrote those words. We, too, were dazzled. And we, too, found the Acropolis posing for a picture—not just for our camera, but for any one of the hundreds of tourist lenses trained at its various structures.DCIM103GOPROGOPR4339.JPGI always thought of the Acropolis as just one building, but I was wrong. The structure I was thinking of (and most commonly associated with the Acropolis) is the Parthenon—the temple of Athena.

Specifically the virgin goddess of Athena, Parthenon is derived from parthenos, which means virgin. Though it served as a temple the ancient Greek religion for over 1,000 years, in the years between the temple was converted into a Christian church (dedicated to the Virgin Mary) and to a mosque. These conversions changed the architecture some, adding an apse here, removing the pagan statues, etc.—but the biggest change to the Parthenon’s structure came when it was used as a powder storeroom. A cannonball hit the active powder and the structure exploded, leading to the skeletal shell you can see today. Though a reconstruction was begun in the early 2000s, no work has been done recently on the Parthenon, leaving the face covered by ugly metal scaffolding.

Acropolis, coming from the Greek words for highest point and city, is actually a complex of ancient ruins. There are 21 ruins within the Acropolis. We saw the 4 largest ones: the Propylaea, the Erechtheum, where our #thingswearenottaller photo was taken, the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, and from afar, the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus (which is maybe the world’s first theater structure) and Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

While on the one hand, I wouldn’t recommend arriving at twilight, since the Acropolis closes at sundown and that leaves you just a scant amount of time to tour and examine the site, arriving at magic hour does have its perks. Namely, the perfect light to capture this ancient site in all its glory. Complete or incomplete, it is still a thing to behold.

Visiting Athens